» Thursday, July 20, 2006


He was asked about his comments during Business Questions relating to a vote by MPs on a replacement for the Trident nuclear deterrent and whether it would take place after the Government had made its decision. The Leader said that, in the normal way, Ministers propose and Parliament disposes. There would be a Cabinet decision at some stage. Mr Straw said he had indicated that there would be a statement about that, and the chances were that it would be in the form of a White Paper. No decision had been made, but there would be a properly-informed debate on a Government motion. He was asked whether, theoretically, it would not go ahead if the House of Commons objected. The Leader pointed out that the House, theoretically, could have objected on the four separate occasions when Iraq had been debated, but it had not done so. The Government had accepted that there should be a vote on the nuclear deterrent, and there would be.

He was asked what had caused the Government to change its mind about a vote. The Leader rejected the suggestion, saying that the Prime Minister had indicated two weeks ago that there would be a vote – a comment that, surprisingly, had not been picked up. It had been made explicit today.

The Leader said that he would anticipate that the majority of members of the House would support the Government motion when it was proposed. Were they not to do so, it would mean that it would be blocked. It would be a vote on a substantive motion, and everyone would understand the consequences of that vote. Asked about the comparison with a recent motion on Enron, which the Government had lost, the Leader pointed out that that had been on a motion for the adjournment of the House. Mr Straw said that, had the Government not agreed to have a vote on Trident on a substantive motion, it would have had to be on a motion for the adjournment. The only possible way for MPs to express their view in the latter case would be to vote on whether the House should adjourn, which would reduce it to a risible level.

He was asked if there would be a similar substantive vote on the issue of nuclear power. The Leader said that there was an obvious distinction between the renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons system and whether new nuclear power stations were built by the private sector. He said that there would be a debate on the White Paper on energy. The Leader said that, where it was possible and appropriate, there should be debates on substantive motions. A decision on the motion for debating the White Paper would be made at a later stage. He pointed out that, with the proposal that there should be simpler stages in the planning procedures, it would require changes in primary or secondary legislati

In a separate point, the Leader said he believed there was also majority support on the government side of the House for the Government’s position on future energy needs, including the development of nuclear power stations. It was pointed out to him that the question had related to the Trident nuclear replacement. Mr Straw, apologising for his elision, said he thought there was also support. Recalling his period as Foreign Secretary, he said that the UK was the member of the Permanent Five of the Security Council which most assiduously had sought to meet its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. The UK had reduced its nuclear warheads systems from three to one; it had also been in the lead in further international reductions. The fact that it "now hit the buffers" was least of all to do with the efforts of the UK.

He was asked if there was a timeline in mind for the Trident vote. He said he had not. Discussions continued.

Referring to his linkage between the previous votes on the Iraq war and the future vote on Trident, he was asked if he was referring to the view that the Government’s position would be supported on a national cross-party or on a Labour Party basis. The Leader said it was both.

The motion, when it was put forward, would be treated as normal Government business, but no decision had been made yet on the whipping arrangements for it. No-one, as far as he was aware, had asked for a free vote.

Asked about reported comments of Alastair Campbell on the likely timing of the resignation of the Prime Minister, Mr Straw referred to the Prime Minister’s previous answer.

The Leader was asked if there were any obstacles this summer to prevent the recall of the House to deal with urgent business such as the Middle East situation. Mr Straw rejected the questioner’s suggestions that there was "always some excuse" for not doing so. He pointed out that he himself had caused Parliament to be recalled in 1998, 2001 and 2002, with the full support of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. It was simply not true that previous recalls had been resisted. As he had said yesterday, if there were a need for a recall, it would be considered. He pointed out that, separately, the House would have an opportunity later to decide itself whether to resume September sittings. The issue caused strong passions on all sides. He had voted for September sittings in the past. His instinct was in favour of them. Mr Straw said that, in any case, there should not be any idea that, if MPs were not sitting, they were not working.

Asked if he was disappointed, given the work he had put in as Foreign Secretary, that it appeared that Iran was not only supplying weapons to Hezbollah and, as the Prime Minister had said, there were concerns that they were supplying them to attack British troops in Iraq. Mr Straw said disappointment was an under-statement. The present situation was a consequence of the Iranian elections which took place in June, 2005 and the election of the current President. The term of the previous President of Iran had given rise to hope of a rapprochement between Iran and the international community, and considerable progress was being made. The new Iranian Government had adopted an unacceptable stance in respect of many issues, including its outrageous approach even to the existence of Israel and its support for terrorist organisations. But he pointed out that diplomatic relations continued to exist and there was a basis for future discussion.

He was asked to give a flavour of today’s Cabinet meeting. He said that the PMOS had briefed on the issue of the Middle East. In addition, there had been discussion of the Home Secretary’s statement and "some politics". Discussion on the Middle East had been very sober, as befitted the gravity of the situation.

Briefing took place at 6:00 | Search for related news

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